Inspiration, Perspiration and Taking the Next Leap

Boondoggle definition

I just returned from two fantastic professional conferences. While this is a little longer than my usual posts, this month I would like to share with you my key conference experiences last week that I think provides an ideal platform from which to launch our new product lines - HR Workouts™ and HR Boot Camp™. My friends and colleagues know I am a frequent and enthusiastic conference attendee. I love learning from the speakers, lurking by the vendor tables and meeting new professionals. I had a former boss who thought almost all conferences were boondoggles; he never understood how attending a good conference could recharge my battery and make me more productive.

Chick-fil-A Leadercast

My favorite conference, the one I cannot miss, is the annual Chick-fil-A Leadercast (Leadercast). Held live in Atlanta and broadcast around the world, the Leadercast is the brainchild of leadership expert and prolific author John C. Maxwell. Maxwell started it in 2000 wanting to create a leadership conference that was affordable and accessible to leaders of all levels. I learned about the conference not from social media, personal referral or mailer but from a sign in a Chick-fil-A drive-through in 2009. When I got home, I remembered to check out the event online, saw the speakers and cost and have been attending ever since. 

Leadercast is not the conference to which you go to learn techniques or other blocking and tackling. The conference provides a broad perspective, the 50,000-foot view, but whether you are an established or emerging leader or a freshly minted entrepreneur, Leadercast delivers stimulation, motivation and great cocktail stories. It is the quality of speakers and the superior production that bring me back year after year.

(I must profess I have only attended the live events and cannot vouch for the hosted/telecast locations, but I have faith these events also deliver a superior value. Speaking of faith, I would be remiss in not mentioning Leadercast does have a faith-based component. Many of the Atlanta participants are church-based groups and places of worship serving as hosts for the remote telecast. This should not deter anyone’s attendance. There are no attempts to convert anyone nor is there any specific religious agenda.)

At Leadercast, every speaker could be the keynote or draw of a conference! In 2012, the speakers included newsmakers Soledad O’Brien, Urban Meyer, and Tim Tebow; academics Dr. Roland Fryer and Dr. Sheena Iyengar; organization leaders Angela Ahrendts and Andy Stanley; and perennial favorites Marcus Buckingham, Patrick Lencioni and John Maxwell.

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While all the speakers delivered, (probably because I am a geek), my favorite presentations were from the academics. Dr. Roland Fryer, a Harvard economist and Time 100 recipient, spoke about race and education in America. He described his research and how, if we have the political will, we could close the achievement gap in education. Dr. Fryer’s most memorable comment came from a question from Soledad O’Brien on “testing in schools.” Dr. Fryer’s position is that politicians and administrators fail to grasp subtlety and no one is being tested at the correct level. In his opinion, “good schools” should only test every 3-4 years just to make sure they are staying on course. To test more often is overkill and worse than unproductive; it actually does harm. On the other hand, “poor schools” should be testing every “14 seconds.” I think the same is true for organizations measuring human capital. Frequency depends on need and not arbitrary guidelines.

Dr. Sheena Iyengar, a Columbia business school professor and 2010 TED speaker, spoke about the art and science of choice. What surprised me the most were her findings about the cultural lenses of choice. She gave multiple examples of how our response to choice is framed by our cultural backgrounds. “Effective leaders see choice through others’ eyes,” Dr. Iyengar asserted. To read the top ten quotes from this year’s Leadercast conference, click here

Leaving the Chick-fil-a Leadercast inspired and ready to take on the challenges of my new business, the Human Resources People & Strategy (HRPS) Global Conference in New York City was the perfect professional chaser to provide focus and direction for my energy. 


What is HRPS?

You may be asking, what is HRPS? Formerly known as the HR Planning Society, HRPS is the professional association for HR professionals. Pardon the commercial, but I am a member of the HRPS Membership Committee. I am often asked two questions, “Who is HRPS for?” and “How is HRPS different from SHRM?”


HRPS is a professional home; it is a unique mix of practitioners, consultants, academics and retirees who have one thing in common, the desire to help organizations enhance their performance through strategic management of human resources. 

Consultants and practitioners side-by-side? Does that work? Jane Brenneman, Senior Vice President, YMCA of Greater Seattle and HRPS Board Member, explains, “the reality is that during our careers we will ebb and flow to different types of employers. HRPS has been the constant in my career. We do not define the membership by employment status but through ongoing learning, networking and the advancement of knowledge within our chosen field.”

Some people distinguish HRPS from the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) as HRPS is “higher level” and, while true in a sense, I think that description over-simplifies the difference and leads to a misrepresentation of HRPS. In my opinion, and this is probably a reflection of my legal training, the difference is HRPS is a community of HR professionals while SHRM is an association for people who work in HR. 

Started in 1948 and known until 1990 as the American Society for Personnel Administration, SHRM is an older association with a broad mandate managing over 30 specialties. HRPS was established in 1977 as a driver to evolve HR from an administrative role to a strategic one. HR Executive Magazine named HRPS one of the top 20 events in the history of HR for its success establishing a strategic direction for the profession. HRPS remains a volunteer-driven organization with a focus on five strategic pillars: Building a Strategic HR Function, HR Strategy and Planning, Leadership Development, Organizational Effectiveness and Talent Management.

Is it at a “higher level” than SHRM? “Yes” but regardless of your current title or employment status if you have chosen HR as your profession, are working or strive to work in one of these five areas and have a desire to contribute to the advancement of the field, then I would encourage you to become a member. (End of commercial)

The annual HRPS Global Conference is three days of first-rate content, networking and a little fun thrown in the mix. I met some great new professionals, especially the independent consultants that gave me great advice and were so supportive, old friends from HRPS and former colleagues from ING and i4cp. In my opinion, the global conference is just the right size – roughly 300 participants – ideal for mingling and building your network.

The conference theme was The Future of Business, and I want to highlight two speakers in this article: 

John Boudreau

John Boudreau

First, John Boudreau and Ravin Jesuthasan kicked-off Tuesday morning by discussing their research and book Transformative HR. Transformative HR is the next evolution of Boudreau’s decision science work he introduced in 2007 in his book with Peter Ramstad, Beyond HR, The New Science of Human Capital. I took away many anecdotes and tips from Boudreau and Jesthasan’s discussion (including seven pages of notes), but what was most striking was the audience polling questions. 

This is a group of forward-thinking HR professionals from successful organizations, and their responses to the speakers’ questions illustrated how much work is still needed to “transform” the profession. As an example, when asked about how sophisticated organizations were using data to make decisions about talent, 61% said, “sometimes I see data but I’m not clear how it’s used to inform talent decisions.” Twenty-eight percent (28%) self-reported to be confident in the data they used to make talent decisions, which the speakers found to be an impressive number. Eleven percent (11%) was able to laugh at their circumstances and say “what data?” There were similar responses to questions about identification of pivotal roles and development of employee value propositions. While 90% of the audience was working on these fundamentals, roughly a quarter reported they were fully executing. The vast majority was still struggling to consistently apply the principles to their organizations.

Related to “transformative HR,” is the second presentation I want to highlight, the new HR competencies presented by Jon Younger of the RBL Group. Jon’s presentation was “hot off the presses,” and the research he shared will be published this Fall. 

Jon took us through the evolution of the question on which the RBL Group has been working for 20+ years, “How does HR add value to the business they support?” Back in 1989, three core competencies were identified: Business Knowledge, Change Management and HR Delivery, but like all great research, this model raised additional questions and RBL Group has been refining the study and growing a large database to understand what HR professionals do and (more important) how their contributions are perceived and received from their counterparts in the business. The 2011 study included global responses from roughly 20,000 participants inside and outside the HR function. 

RBL Group’s newest HR competency model has six themes. Successful HR professionals must act as (from RBL Group website):

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  • Strategic positioners who understand the evolving business contexts, stakeholder expectations, and business requirements and translate them into talent, culture, and leadership actions
  • Credible activists who build relationships of trust and have a clear point of view about how to build business performance
  • Capability builders who define, audit, and create organization capabilities required for sustainable organizational success
  • Change champions who initiate and sustain change at the individual, initiative, and institutional levels
  • HR innovators and integrators who look for new ways to do HR practices and integrate those separate practices to deliver business solutions
  • Technology proponents who use technology for efficiency, to connect employees, and to leverage new communication channels, e.g., social media.

What was most interesting to me was the analysis RBL Group did to determine which of these competencies contribute the most to organizational success. The least impactful was “Credible Activists,” which we as a group hypothesize is because it is “table stakes” or necessary but not a source of competitive advantage. The most impactful is “HR Innovators and Integrators,” which harkens back to Boudreau and Jesthasan’s presentation that most organizations are struggling to activate the strategic HR theories.

About a year ago, I made the difficult decision to leave a job, colleagues and members I loved to make the leap to start my own firm. I realized as I spoke with other entrepreneurs at the HRPS conference that one reason it felt like way more than just 10 months ago is it was a decision I had been wrestling with for much longer. Again, because of my legal training, “putting out a shingle” has seemed like an option since 1998. But last April, even given this sluggish economy, it seemed the stars were aligning and pointing me to this path. While there have been bumps, including my own baby bump and setbacks along the way, attending these two conferences reinforced my belief in a business need for the passion and skills my business partner and I possess. It is in this context I am delighted to announce our first formal products: HR Workouts™ and HR Boot Camp™.

What are HR Workouts™ and HR Boot Camp™?

HR Workouts™ and HR Boot Camp™ are two different coaching methods, or delivery mechanisms, designed to solve the same given business problem (see below). HR professionals and their organizations need ongoing support to build new skills and activate HR strategies to advance the profession. However, not all HR professionals or organizations desire the same type of support to achieve their goals. This is why we provide our clients the option to select a method that will best suit their needs.

Conferences, books and articles build awareness of what organizations should be doing but do not address the “how.” Even a great workshop is not enough support to ensure success in most organizations. The other extreme we see employed is securing “hired guns” who will do the work for you but without a committed transition plan to transfer skills and responsibilities to the organization. Thus, the ability evaporates before the final invoice is even paid.

It was my business partner who gave me the idea for HR Workouts™ and HR Boot Camp™. She wanted to look perfect in her wedding dress/photos for her Spring 2012 nuptials. While she knew what to do, this day was so important to her, she made the investment in boot camps and other training to be sure she had the day she imagined. There was no substitution for hard work but she found working with others helped her create a plan and provided motivation to stick with her routine. She also had access to tools along with creative solutions to help her over the obstacles that inevitably popped up along the way.

These are the same principles we have incorporated into creating three distinct programs to target specific problem areas:

  1. The Business of HR: Making the business case for the HR function and people programs
  2. Strategic Workforce Preparation: Getting the best from the Strategic Workforce Planning process
  3. HR Analytics for the HR Business Partner: Acquiring the people data expertise to meet and exceed business needs

Please follow the links to learn more about our Targeted Problem Areas (above) and Coaching Methods, and be sure to contact us with any questions you may have!

We look forward to helping you and your organization reach its goals, optimize its resources and fulfill its promise!